Understanding background checks: What’s the difference between state, county, and national reports?

A background check is, in general, a request for information about a consumer’s history. The review might look into a consumer’s employment history, driving records, any applicable criminal record, and may even include an evaluation of his or her credit report.1

Consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) often obtain this information on behalf of a company, such as an employer, that has a permissible purpose for gathering such information. However, the company and the CRA must adhere to guidelines set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). In many cases, they must also comply with standards established by many states’ potentially stricter consumer protection laws.

Criminal history reports are often reviewed as part of an employment background check. Several types of criminal reports originate within different jurisdictions, so it’s important that consumers (and end users, as well) understand which type of report an end user (such as an employer) might request in order to learn what information may, or may not, be covered in the report.

Federal background checks are often confused with national background checks. It’s important to note that they’re distinct checks with different scopes. Federal background reports include information about infractions prosecuted at the federal level (for example, federal crimes prosecuted in U.S. district court). Federal crimes include, but are not limited to, tax evasion, kidnapping, and money laundering.2

National background reports cover a broader scope of infractions outside the purview of the federal criminal report. National criminal reports provide more information, including details about arrest records and convictions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Due to the wide net cast with these searches, as well as coverage gaps and the potential aging of information, employers and CRAs must exercise caution in using them and should confirm findings and address any disputes expediently.3

To obtain the most accurate and up-to-date information when compiling national background reports, CRAs may drill down further to the state, county, and local levels. These more granular-level reports are often called multistate, multijurisdictional, or comprehensive reports.

iiX offers employers a variety of criminal background check data and resources. Our Single County Criminal Search provides current criminal information on file at county courthouses and/or within court databases. We offer searches for all available U.S. counties. Reports can include complete case and defendant information. iiX’s State Criminal Search covers all participating jurisdictions within a particular state. Records included will vary depending on jurisdiction and can encompass court records, inmate records, and sex offender registries.4

For more information on the various iiX criminal background search options available to employers, please click here, or contact our sales team at 1-800-683-8553, option 2.

Sarah Foster

Sarah S. Foster is compliance supervisor of the Verisk Analytics iiX unit, a premier provider of motor vehicle reports (MVRs) and preemployment screening services. She is NAPBS FCRA-certified and holds CIPP/US and CIPM certifications from the IAPP. Her focus is on compliance with the FCRA and DPPA in utilizing consumer reports and background checks. Sarah has a bachelor of science degree from Tarleton State University.

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